Pusan festival opens with lighthearted look at South Korean presidency

By Min Lee, AP
Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pusan festival opens with Korean political comedy

BUSAN, South Korea — One of Asia’s top film festivals opened Thursday by taking a lighthearted look at the South Korean presidency.

Jang Jin’s “Good Morning President” playfully examines the personal lives of three successive heads of state — a former dissident conflicted by what to do with a winning lottery ticket; a dashing young politician who juggles a kidney transplant and a standoff with North Korea, and the country’s first female leader whose husband’s real-estate investments beget a scandal that threatens the presidency and her marriage.

The director told reporters on the opening day of the 14th Pusan International Film Festival that he wanted to show the human side of elected leaders after the end of authoritarian rule in the 1980s. South Korea’s military-backed government relented to calls for a presidential election in 1987 after months of massive protests across the country.

“I was born in the 1970s. I grew up in South Korea. I also felt oppressed by a dictator-like president. But as time passed we have people who put in effort so we can feel a little closer to the president,” he said after the film’s world premiere.

Coincidentally, two real-life former South Korean presidents died while it was filming — Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide in May, when he was caught up in a corruption investigation, and Kim Dae-jung, best known for reaching out to North Korea, died in August.

“I wanted those presidents to see this film and have a good laugh, so I was very sad,” Jang said.

The director said while he borrowed from historical events, he didn’t base any of his characters on real-life presidents. But there appear to be veiled references. Jang’s lottery-winning president, like Kim, is a former dissident. The handsome young president, played by heartthrob Jang Dong-gun, is Kim-like in his willingness to engage the North, refusing a request from the U.S. navy to enter South Korean waters to avoid angering Pyongyang.

The nine-day, 9.9 billion South Korean won ($8.5 million) Pusan event in the southern beach resort city will show 355 movies from 70 countries — 98 of which will be world premieres.

“Pearl Harbor” star Josh Hartnett and “X-Men” director Bryan Singer will add a dash of Hollywood glamor. Hartnett is promoting his thriller “I Come with the Rain” and Singer will discuss the horror film “Trick ‘r Treat,” which he produced.

French director Costa Gavras and Italian horror expert Dario Argento are giving master classes, as are Hong Kong director Johnnie To and Venice Film Festival winner Jia Zhangke.

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